• Unemployment rose from 2019 to 2020 following the pandemic restrictions and remained at the increased level in 2021. This was despite a steady decline in the number of unemployed adults since 2011.

  • Nearly 1.5 million adults were unemployed in 2021 – a slight drop from the 2020 rise.

  • Long-term unemployment increased in 2021 to 1.2% from 0.9% in 2020, although it remains low in historical terms.

This chart shows the percentage of UK adults aged 16–64 who are unemployed (out of work and actively seeking work) and how long they have been unemployed for, covering 1992 to 2021.

Unemployment can affect people’s health in several ways: it can act as a source of stress, deprive people of income and social networks, and lead to unhealthy coping behaviours. A longer duration of unemployment can worsen the extent of these issues and, consequently, someone’s health.

Unemployment

  • The UK fell to a record low of 4% in 2019, from a previous peak of 8.3% in 2011 following the 2008 financial crisis.
  • Unemployment rose over the course of 2020 due to pandemic restrictions with 4.5% or more of economically active people unemployed in 2020 and 2021.

Duration of unemployment

  • Long-term unemployment has fallen significantly since 2011 – 0.9% of unemployed people had been unemployed for more than 12 months in 2020. 
  • Long-term unemployment rose to 1.2% in 2021 in the wake of the pandemic.

The speed and shape of the economic recovery from the pandemic will have important implications for whether long-term unemployment continues to rise. Prolonged unemployment is a risk to health and government should consider additional interventions to reduce long–term unemployment.

  • Unemployment is defined as people actively seeking and being available for work.
  • This analysis uses the Labour Force Survey and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition of unemployment. It does not use the claimant count, which gives an administrative count of people receiving unemployment benefit.

Source: Office for National Statistics, Labour Force Survey

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This is part of Evidence hub: What drives health inequalities?

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